Was Aguero’s Panenka really a mistake? Analysing the art and science of penalties | Soccer


It took two years for Antonín Panenka to excellent the flop-wedge penalty that bears his identify. First he practised it in opposition to the Bohemians goalkeeper Zdenek Hruska in coaching shootouts, on which they might stake beer and chocolate, then in friendlies and league matches. After which, with Czechoslovakia 4-3 up on penalties in the 1976 European Championship ultimate, he noticed the West Germany keeper Sepp Maier transfer early – and scooped the ball impudently over him, not solely securing the trophy however immediately trademarking a new transfer.

The key, Panenka defined to Ben Lyttleton in his guide, Twelve Yards, was to make use of a lengthy runup to see what Maier was going to do. “I ran quick, as a result of then it’s tougher for the goalkeeper to learn your physique language,” he stated. “Even after I’m a yard away from the ball, Maier is already transferring to the left. If I wasn’t utilizing the chip, I’d have put it in the other way.”

I assumed of these phrases after Sergio Agüero’s gradual‑movement Panenka-style penalty fell meekly into the fingers of the Chelsea keeper Édouard Mendy on Saturday evening. “He used to do that in coaching however by no means used to attain, so I don’t know why he has tried it,” stated Micah Richards, as social media tutted and frothed. Afterwards, as Agüero issued an apology, the debate grew to become not nearly the miss – however the doubtful deserves of the Panenka itself.

Nobody doubts it’s a high-tariff transfer; one which leaves the taker both wanting like a genius or a idiot. However is it value the threat? Properly, that evaluation requires a dive into a wormhole of science, art and the psychology of a good penalty kick.

The very best place to begin is with the LSE professor Ignacio Palacios-Huerta, an professional in discovering recurring patterns amongst kickers and keepers, with the intention to give groups a aggressive benefit in penalties.

“It’s not a horrible thought,” says Palacios-Huerta, whose purchasers have included Chelsea earlier than the 2008 Champions League ultimate and Holland forward of the 2010 World Cup ultimate. “In my dataset, the scoring charge of a true Panenka is statistically just like that of another sort of penalty kicks; though it’s barely decrease.”

How a lot decrease, given round 80% of penalties are profitable? Palacios-Huerta says the small quantity of Panenkas makes his estimates tentative. However he says “the scoring charge might be 4-5 proportion factors decrease than the common penalty kick”.

Agüero’s gamble did not repay in opposition to Chelsea. {Photograph}: Shaun Botterill/AFP/Getty Photographs

This evaluation is backed up by a research of 1,716 penalty kicks in the massive 4 European Leagues between 2015‑16 and 2018‑19, which checked out all the things from the size of run-up to whether the ball was placed, powered or chipped, Panenka style. “The science actually suggests the ‘placement’ adopted by the ‘energy’ methods are more likely to result in a penalty being scored than the Panenka,” the lead writer Dr Mikael Jamil says.

Nevertheless, in his guide Lyttleton factors on the market are additionally psychological results of a well-timed Panenka. As an example throughout Euro 2012, Spain had been stage at 2-2 in the shootout with Portugal when Sergio Ramos scored with a Panenka to make it 3-2. Moments later Bruno Alves then stepped up and hit the crossbar. Three days earlier, with Italy 2-1 down after two kicks every in opposition to England, Andrea Pirlo dinked a penalty over Joe Hart. Once more the momentum shifted. Ashley Younger stepped up and hit the crossbar – and Italy went by means of.

There’s something else critics of Agüero must also keep in mind.

Opposite to what many individuals assume, taking place the center with a penalty is definitely a good technique. Since the 2006-07 season Opta has tracked the location of each Premier League penalty, placing them into six equally sized zones, and discovered that taking pictures low left has a 77.2% success charge whereas going low proper is 80% profitable. That’s what most gamers overwhelmingly do. Nevertheless aiming a penalty kick centrally is 97.8% profitable when the shot is excessive – and 80.2% whether it is low.

In Twelve Yards, the former Chelsea keeper Petr Cech provides a compelling reason why that is perhaps: he says he by no means preferred staying in the center for a penalty as a result of it’d appear like he wasn’t making an attempt. That’s backed by a scientific research that discovered keepers had “motion bias” and tended to dive as a result of they felt much less blame could be connected in the event that they did not make a save.

In the meantime, the query stays, why attempt a Panenka when statistically it has a decrease probability of success? Palacios-Huerta believes the purpose goes past scoring, and factors out that Agüero perhaps needed to go away a mark in a single of his ultimate video games for Metropolis. Panenka himself, in the meantime, noticed it otherwise. “I noticed myself as an entertainer and I noticed this penalty as a reflection of my persona,” he stated. “I needed to provide the followers one thing new to see, to create one thing that might get them speaking.”

No less than Agüero’s miss is unlikely to be pricey. Metropolis will nonetheless win the Premier League and the striker’s status is safe. For Panenka the stakes had been altogether increased. In reality after the recreation in opposition to West Germany, he was advised that would have been punished if he missed, as it could have been seen as disrespecting the Communist system. What kind of punishment, Lyttleton requested him? “Thirty years working down the mines,” got here the reply.

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